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Behind the blockades: Witness joins France’s protesting farmers

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Behind the blockades: Witness joins France's protesting farmers

France’s farmers are angry. They say they’re being strangled by a toxic combination of red tape, trade deals, unrealistic prices and ecological measures. Witness joins them as they head towards blockades in Paris.

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Last November, French farmers turned traffic signs upside down, using the slogan: “We’re walking on our heads.” However, this wasn’t enough, so they took their campaign into cities across France, including Paris. Their reasons for protesting include the Mercosur trade agreement, and other trade deals, the EU’s Green Deal and what they describe as unsustainable bureaucracy.

In the small town of Bazarnes, in Yonne, Flora’s livestock farm has 100 sheep. Everyday at 8.15am, she checks on them and feeds them.

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“We are beginning to wonder who will feed us tomorrow? Because we’re not sure if we’ll still be here,” she says. Her profession is in danger. The European Union has just signed a free trade agreement with New Zealand, allowing the import of animals for half their value in France. “We will find New Zealand lamb in the stores that will have travelled 18,000 kilometers,” she declares.

The administrative bureaucracy and the implementation of the European Green Deal, a requirement for standards in favour of pesticide reduction, are at the heart of Flora’s farmer neighbour Xavier’s anger. He is preparing to take part in blockades in the Paris area with his tractor. “It is a very heavy mental burden,” he reflects as he gets closer to his goal.

A glimmer of hope

After three days of blockades, there’s a glimmer of hope. Beyond the promised drastic administrative simplifications, the government commits to step back on the Green Deal, to maintain tax benefits on GNR – the fuel for farmers – and says that they do not want the free trade agreement with Mercosur. The blockades are finally lifted.

Xavier and Flora welcome the news with optimism, but say they are not giving up. After the government’s promises, farmers are waiting for action, and quickly.



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